Efficiently made, and showcasing a beautifully encompassed performance by Cumberbatch, this film is inherently successful in it's aim to finally bring the story of Britain's most underrated war hero to light.
Having garnered nine BAFTA nods and eight Oscar nominations – including Best Picture – The Imitation Game was arguably one of the cinematic highlights of 2014. Based on Andrew Hodges’ biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma, the film explores how a group of intellectuals – ranging from cryptologists to crossword puzzlers – helped to crack the ‘impossible’ German Enigma code and end the war by more than two years. At the head of this band of codebreakers was Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), a brilliant but eccentric mathematician whose extraordinary war-time efforts were cruelly and unjustly shrouded in secrecy after his homosexuality was revealed.
The aim of the film is essentially to regale Turing’s previously untold story with a sense of empathy and respect, as a means of finally applauding his intellectual efforts. One of the resounding elements of the film is in Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Turing. There are glimmers of the actors’ past roles (like his infamous reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes) that come through in his characterisation of the war hero; like Holmes, Turing is something of an outsider. His sense of intellectual superiority and arrogance, as well as his limited patience for others, makes his involvement in the group difficult, especially in the eyes of appointed team leader, Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode). However, using Turing’s self-invented Imitation Game, in which the differences between man and machine are tested, the film tries to delve deeper into Turing himself and find what is human in the mechanical structure of his genius.
These human elements are explored relatively well in some aspects. Turing’s desperate perseverance to make his Enigma machine work is incredibly emotive and passionate, and is particularly emphasised in a hysteric scene wherein Turing tearfully berates the cynicism of his superiors, like Commander Denniston (Charles Dance). His homosexuality however, despite being a central part not only of Turing’s character, but also his persecution and subsequent historic dismissal, is not as deeply explored as it could be. Director Morten Tydlum tiptoes around the subject very carefully, playing it just a little too safe throughout and only depicting the references to Turing’s sexuality in flashbacks of his close childhood friendship with a boy called Christopher, his doomed engagement to Keira Knightley’s Joan Clarke and his ongoing police interrogation.
The stand-out emotional scene however is in the forceful and devastating depiction of Turing’s punishment. For being a homosexual in that time, the sentence was either jail or chemical castration. Because of his intrinsic need to work, Turing chose the chemical castration, and the debilitating effects of such a monstrous infliction really show in the final scene between him and Joan. To most contemporary audiences, it certainly strikes a chord, as in Cumberbatch’s performance we see the unnecessary crippling of a man who’s only crime was to be gay. Though the scenery is a little too picturesque to be taken with the same gravitas as in other dramas of this period, The Imitation Game is an admirable film, which succeeds wholeheartedly in giving some much deserved credit to an equally admirable man and his incredible legacy.
The Imitation Game (2014), directed by Morten Tydlum, is released on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK by StudioCanal, Certificate 12A.